TAMPA, Fla.—Nolan Martinez‘s first full professional season obviously hasn’t gone how he’d hoped. He missed roughly a month while rehabilitating a sore right shoulder, which means he’s been stuck at the Yankees’ minor league complex all season instead of jumping to either Rookie-level Pulaski or short-season Staten Island after extended spring training.
He’s made just two appearances this year, and has thrown just 11.2 innings over his first two seasons. He’s feeling 100 percent now, though, and the Yankees’ third-round selection from 2016 out of high school in Culver City, Calif., is anxious to get his career back on track.
Still, he acknowledges the injury was a bit frightening considering where it occurred.
“It was a rotator cuff, and that’s one of the biggest things when it comes to pitching besides the labrum,” he said. “So I was like, ‘OK, this is kind of serious. I might as well take it slow and try not to injure it anymore or hurt it badly.'”
Since turning pro, two things have changed about Martinez. First, he’s mostly defeated the sweltering, sticky Tampa heat that can sap even the most dedicated of athlete and has added a little more strength to his frame.
“I lost a couple of pounds when I first got here because it’s so hot,” he said, “but I’m slowly building back up.”
The other change he’s made is to his changeup. He’s altered the grip in order to increase his ability to control the pitch. What was a split-fingered changeup is now a modified version of the circle changeup.
Entering the draft, Martinez, who was committed to San Diego State as a two-way talent, was up to 95 mph with the fastball that had registered the highest spin rate at the previous year’s World Wood Bat Association tournament, held each year in Jupiter, Fla., to cap the summer showcase circuit. He also showed a powerful upper-70s slider that he could throw for strikes or bury for strikeouts and a changeup that he seldom used.
The mid-90s fastball he showed was a jump from his junior season, when he was mostly in high-80s and low-90s. To get those gains, he worked with Ryan Cadaret at SHIFT Athletic Performance. Though Martinez went through a variety of different workouts, the ones he believed helped most involved working with resistance bands to strengthen his arm.
“That’s more toward throwing purposes,” he said, “so that’s what I feel is the best and kind of helps me out the best.”
There are only a few weeks left in the regular season–though Martinez is likely to get more innings during fall instructional league—and his only goal the rest of the way is to take the mound every fifth day without feeling pain that could send him back to the trainer’s room.
“Just stay healthy,” he said. “Just stay healthy and keep striving forward.”
NEWS AND NOTES
• The GCL Phillies and Yankees played a doubleheader of sorts on Monday afternoon. The teams first finished a suspended game from earlier this year, then played seven more innings in a regularly scheduled contest. The most interesting player on either side was easily Phillies lefthander Manuel Silva.
An 18-year-old, Silva was signed as part of the Phillies’ 2015 international signing class that included first baseman Jhailyn Ortiz as its gem. The Phillies gave Silva $100,000 and bet that the lefthander’s skinny frame would soon add bulk. And while he still has plenty of room to grow—he’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 145 pounds—his fastball has begun to tick up.
As a 16-year-old, Silva’s fastball sat between 87-90 mph. On Monday, he sat between 90-92 for the duration of his five-inning outing. He also showed a pair of breaking pitches that each flashed above-average and garnered swings and misses but were inconsistent overall.
Looking at Silva’s loose, easy delivery and projectable frame, it’s easy to believe there will be much more in the tank as he matures physically and learns to better command his arsenal. The Phillies have plenty of live arms in their system, and Silva could one day join that higher-profile group.
• Phillies second baseman Brayan Gonzalez, No. 19 on last year’s Top 50 International Prospects list, was impressive in the doubleheader as well. The tightly packed Venezuelan, whom the Phillies gave $900,000, showed a quick stroke from the left side with quick hands and impressive barrel control. He also made a very nice diving play on a ball up the middle that he turned into an out.
• St. Lucie outfielder Tim Tebow turned 30 on Monday, and the Clearwater Threshers were ready. They turned their regularly scheduled “Pizza Fest Feeding Frenzy” into a birthday party for the former quarterback at Florida and in the NFL.
They brought in popular minor league performers the Zooperstars—including “Tim Tebull”—and served cake on the concourse. They also had 174 “Tim Tebow Series” shirts printed at a local vendor for $7 apiece and ready to sell at $15 each to fans. If the shirts sold out, that meant $1,392 of profit for the Threshers. It was Tebow’s birthday, but the team got the gifts.
And no matter what you think of him as a player, it was pretty neat to see a crowd of nearly 5,500 sing “Happy Birthday” to Tebow completely unprompted. Tebow responded with a curtain call, to more uproarious applause. Tebow went 1-for-4 with a two-run single and two walks in his team’s 12-7 win.